26 September 2023

Misleading: Boris Johnson took off his shoes out of respect, not because they are broken

The image shows the British premier following Indian custom before entering the Gandhi Ashram during his visit to India on April 21, 2022


On June 14, a Twitter user shared a screenshot from Toutiao, a Chinese web forum, and claimed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leather shoes broke during a diplomatic trip.

The Toutiao post has gained more than 2,400 likes and nearly 200 comments, and the same news photo with similar claims has been shared widely across China.

A post on another web forum, Baidu Tieba, suggested Johnson could not afford a new pair of shoes due to the bleak economy in the United Kingdom. It said he looked embarrassed about the condition of his footwear.

Another tweet said Johnson bought the “broken” shoes from a “bogus luxury brand” in China. Other user reactions included some sympathetic comments and even praises for being a “down-to-earth leader.”

Screenshot of a Toutiao post.
Screenshot of a Toutiao post.

However, the reason Johnson took off his shoes was not because they broke.

A reverse image search with the keyword “Boris Johnson” led to a news photo on Getty Images. It was taken by AFP photographer Ben Stansall, during Johnson’s visit to India on April 21, 2022.

The Toutiao image is a cropped version of the original on Getty Images.

AFP said in the caption that the picture was taken when Johnson was entering the Gandhi Ashram.

A news report on YouTube by India Today shows Bhupendra Patel, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, a state in western India, has taken off his shoes along with Johnson outside the ashram.

In the video by India Today and many photos found on the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust website, all delegates are seen touring around the house without shoes.

A photo of Boris Johnson (C) with Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel (R) and trustee Kartikeya Sarabhai (L) with their shoes off. (Credit: Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust)

According to Indian culture and tradition, it is customary to remove one’s shoes before entering a sacred place such as a temple or a home.

Sabarmati Ashram, also referred to as the Gandhi Ashram, once served as the residence of political leader Mahatma Gandhi as well as the main center for the Indian freedom struggle during the 1920s.

The common practice of removing footwear before entering the ashram is meant to protect the purity and cleanliness of the place.